a manifestation of spirit felt by a creative genius and passed to us through its conducting medium of form, as a wire can conduct electrical energy from one matter to another.
The true essence of spiritual beauty is indestructible and everlasting.
Expressive in their own right, 1948 (fig.1) were the foundation of Davie’s fascination with automatism, chance and the unexpected, their spindly, biomorphic forms suggesting the growth of microscopic life.
Davie’s works on paper are less well known but have played a vital role in the development of his art, enabling him to liberate subconscious actions and ideas and generate new kinds of images.
Working quickly with boards and canvases packed around the walls and floor of his studio using large brushes and pots of liquid paint, he produced a body of work without any consideration for subject or form, discovering that images appeared to him quite unexpectedly. It has a dense grid-like structure from which individual shapes seem to emerge.
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Across its surface a web of signs and symbols appear to take on a life of their own, Davie’s rapid application of paint suggesting a composition open to chance and a visual world beyond the grasp of reason.Since joining the Tommy Sampson Big Band in the late 1940s as a professional saxophonist (going on to make broadcasts with the Cam Robbie band and releasing five albums of his own improvised music recorded in Cornwall during the early 1970s), Davie mastered a number of instruments and switched freely between saxophone, piano and painting, enjoying the liberation from linear time and losing himself through improvisation.‘I can sit down at a piano and just play a few notes,’ Davie asserted, adding that, ‘Before I know it, I am entering a world of ideas which are presenting themselves to me out of the manipulation of sounds.’3 Like the musicians he admired – Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins – Davie’s free-flowing gestures and marks move with hypnotic intensity, his chaotic abstractions the pictorial equivalent of sound and movement with rhythm, melody and harmony.During this formative period Davie discovered the poetry of Walt Whitman and Eliot, whose prose is echoed in letters home as well as his own verses, bound by his father into book form and peppered with photographs and colourful illustrations.Compelled like Whitman to capture his emotions first-hand, Davie’s immersion with words would ultimately feed into the process and creative energy of his images: How senseless it is The way they dance So monotonously around In front of me I watch them with my eyes As I blow breathy music From my saxophone I play to the moon Like a Chinese flautist In the forest The dancing figures change To silver grasses tall And waving gently I no longer hear the sound Of an out of tune piano A smile is a beautiful thing I answer with my eyes And play the more beautifully1Deciding that there was no career to be made from writing, Davie worked as a jazz musician and jewellery maker after being demobilised from the army in 1946.The miracle that comes to pass; the light which gleams suddenly within me, the flash of true understanding, for a moment blinding me, then filling me with a complete joy and satisfaction; it is so difficult to define, yet it forces me to try.4 In Paris Davie was stimulated by the exoticism he saw in early Christian, Byzantine and Romanesque art which he found chimed with the spiritual intensity of his Celtic tradition, as well as modernist paintings by Picasso, Matisse and Arp.After hitchhiking to Switzerland and walking around the Matterhorn, the Davies went to Venice.Ranging from primeval animals and birds to human and solid abstract forms inspired by Saxon and pre-Columbian design, Davie’s silver pieces are an early indication of the forms that would later appear in his paintings.Davie began teaching basic design in the jewellery department at London’s Central School of Arts and Crafts led by the Scottish artist William Johnstone, where colleagues included artists Nigel Henderson, Eduardo Paolozzi, Richard Hamilton and Patrick Heron.Having studied at Edinburgh College of Art (1938–40), his aspirations to be a painter were abandoned when he was conscripted into the Royal Artillery in 1942 and sent to an aircraft battery in the Warwickshire countryside near Kenilworth.Davie never experienced frontline combat and described these years spent surrounded by fields and trees as a crucial first encounter with nature.